Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/P'u Sung-ling

P'U Sung-ling 蒲松齡 (T. 留仙, 劍臣, H. 柳泉, 聊齋), June 5, 1640–1715, Feb. 25, author of the famous collection of short stories known as 聊齋志異 Liao-chai chih-i and other masterpieces, was a native of Tzŭ-ch'uan, Shantung. His ancestors, P'u-lu-hun 蒲魯渾 and P'u Chü-jên 蒲居仁, served in the last two or three decades of the Yüan dynasty (1279–1368) as governors of the Pan-yang Route (般陽路, present central Shantung), their official residence being in Tzŭ-ch'uan where their tombs can still be identified. P'u-lu-hun, whose name suggests a non-Chinese origin, was probably a Mongol or came from one of the Turkish races serving under the Mongols. The other name, P'u Chu-jên, gives the impression of belonging to a later generation that had more contact with the Chinese. It is said that when Mongol rule ended in Shantung (1367–68), the descendants of this P'u family remained in Tzŭ-ch'uan, hiding in the home of a Chinese relative by the name of Yang 楊 and for a time pretending to be members of that family. Some years later they resumed the name P'u. By the end of the Ming period the clan had become very important in the district, and the name of the village was changed to P'u-chia chuang 蒲家莊. In 1592 P'u Sung-ling's grand-uncle, P'u Shêng-wên 蒲生汶, became a chin-shih and later served as magistrate of Yü-t'ien, Chihli. P'u Sung-ling's father, P'u Pan 蒲槃 (T. 敏吾, d. 1651), was a merchant and a man of some learning. In 1647 he led his clan in a successful defense of their village against a strong band of desperadoes that had taken several large cities.

In 1658 P'u Sung-ling became a hsiu-ts'ai with highest honors at the examination presided over by Shih Jun-chang [q. v.], then commissioner of education of Shantung. Thereafter P'u took the provincial examination regularly but did not qualify for the chü-jên degree. In 1685 he became a salaried licentiate of the district school and in 1710 or 1711 became a senior licentiate. In 1670 he went to Pao-ying, Kiangsu, where he was employed as secretary to the magistrate, Sun Hui 孫蕙 (T. 樹百, H. 笙生, 1632–1686), a fellow townsman and a chin-shih of 1661. In 1671 he accompanied Sun to the district of Kao-yü where Sun served for a time as acting magistrate. Later in the same year P'u relinquished his position and returned to Tzŭ-ch'uan. From 1672 onward for about twenty years he was engaged as secretary to a wealthy friend, Pi Chi-yu 畢際有 (T. 載績, H. 存吾, 1623–1693), onetime department magistrate of T'ung-chou, Kiangsu (1661–63). The rest of his life he spent in preparing for the examinations, managing the affairs of the family, teaching in the homes of local gentry, and writing short stories, poems, songs, etc. He was a member of the local poets' club, Ying-chung shih-shê 郢中詩社. In his later years his family fortune seems to have increased slightly, probably owing to the labors of his thrifty and genial wife, née Liu 劉 (Jan., 1644–1713). The two led a happy and uneventful life together, and had four sons, of whom three became licentiates. After his wife died, in 1713, P'u wrote a sketch of her life and dedicated several poems to her memory. He died two years later.

P'u Sung-ling was little known in his day, but gradually his fame spread over China and eventually to distant lands. That fame is based primarily on his remarkable collection of short stories, entitled Liao-chai chih-i. He seems to have begun writing short stories early in life, and in 1679 wrote a preface to his collection. But some of the stories must have been written or revised after that date. These stories attracted some attention while he was still living. The poet and official, Wang Shih-chên [q. v.], was one of the first to recognize them as literary masterpieces and wrote comments on some of them. For more than six decades they circulated in manuscript, and not until 1766 was the Liao-chai chih-i, 16 chüan, first printed. The first edition was based on a manuscript in the possession of Chao Ch'i-kao 趙起杲 (T. 清曜, H. 荷邨, d. June 1766), prefect of Yen-chou-fu, Chekiang (1765–66), who, with Pao T'ing-po [q. v.], sponsored the printing. Chao died five months before the printing was finished and the collating and editing were done by his secretary, Yü Chi [q. v.]. This edition contains 431 stories with some criticisms by Wang Shih-chên and a glossary and notes by Lü Chan-ên 呂湛恩 (T. 叔清). It is said that another edition appeared in Hunan about the same time (1765–66), sponsored by a magistrate named Wang 王. But Chao's edition became the basis of hundreds of reprintings, with virtually no change in the text except the addition of illustrations. His is also the text from which selected stories were translated into several languages—English, German, Japanese, and Russian. The English translation, by Herbert A. Giles, entitled Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (1908), is by far the largest selection, containing 164 stories. A Manchu translation, by Jakdan 札克丹 (T. 秀峯), entitled Man-Han ho-pi (滿漢合璧) Liao-chai chih-i, 24 chüan, printed in 1848, contains 128 stories. The Japanese version, by Tanaka Kōtarō 田中貢太郎, forms the twelfth volume of the series, 支那文學大觀 Shina bungaku taikan (1926), and contains 34 items with supplements. Recently, stories not appearing in Chao's edition of the Liao-chai chih-i have been culled from old manuscripts and printed. There are several such collections; the largest, containing 56 items, was edited by Liu Chieh-p'ing 劉階平 under the title Liao-chai chih-i wei-k'an kao (未刊稿) and printed in 1936.

The Liao-chai chih-i is a collection of short stories and legends, usually attributed to actual localities, sometimes with a basis in fact. There is a moral implicit in many of the stories, namely that evil doers are eventually punished and that the kind-hearted are repaid for their good deeds. In most of them foxes and spirits are personified, usually as female characters. They differ little in this respect from the stories of the T'ang and Sung periods, but in construction P'u often surpassed his predecessors. The popularity of the Liao-chai chih-i is due chiefly to his semi-poetical style, his careful choice of words, and his recondite literary allusions. His style was frequently imitated by short story writers of the late Ch'ing period.

Since the emergence, in the second decade of this century, of a new vernacular literature the compact, allusive style of the Liao-chai chih-i is no longer popular as a medium for short story writing. Nevertheless the circulation of the work is still, no doubt, considerable. In fact, interest in the author has recently increased owing to the discovery that he is the writer of a novel in the vernacular whose authorship was formerly not established. These newly authenticated writings are strong in local color and, at the same time, forceful because they are written in the language of everyday life and are not a collocation of abstruse literary allusions intelligible only with the aid of a dictionary. This novel, entitled 醒世姻緣傳 Hsing-shih yin-yüan chuan, in 100 chapters, was written under the pseudonym, Hsi Chou-shêng 西周生. The earliest known printed edition is dated 1870. It treats the theme of family relations—the chief characters being a shrew and a henpecked husband. A number of the stories in the Liao-chai chih-i treated similar themes with a like moral purpose. Owing to the fact that the novel contains these and other similarities in thought to the known writings of P'u; because it contains colloquialisms peculiar to Tzŭ-ch'uan (P'u's home); and moreover bears indications that the writer lived in that place early in the K'ang-hsi period; it was postulated by Hu Shih (see under Ts'ui Shu) that P'u was the author. A punctuated edition of the novel, published in 1933, has expositions of this problem by various writers who apparently agree with this conclusion.

Meanwhile interest in the life and writings of P'u Sung-ling continues unabated, chiefly owing to the discovery of hitherto unknown manuscript versions of his works. With the exception of the Liao-chai chih-i and the novel just mentioned, all the works now attributed to him appear in the collection, Liao-chai ch'üan-chi (全集), 2 volumes, printed in 1936. It includes the following items: essays (文集 wên-chi), 2 chüan; poems (詩集 shih-chi), 2 chüan; poems in irregular meter (詞集 tz'ŭ-chi), 1 chüan; and 18 stories told in rhyme, with folk songs (鼓詞 ku-tz'ŭ and 俚曲 li-tz'ŭ), some of these in dramatic form. The Liao-chai ch'üan-chi contains also a nien-p'u of P'u Sung-ling compiled by Lu Ta-huang 路大荒, co-editor of the collection; supplementary biographical and bibliographical information; and a list of local expressions, including slang, with elucidations.


[Lu Ta-huang, 蒲柳泉先生年譜 P'u Liu-ch'üan hsien-shêng nien-p'u and other articles in the Liao-chai ch'üan-chi (1936); Hu Shih and others, articles printed in the 1933 edition of the Hsing-shih yin-yüan chuan; T'oung Pao (1909), p. 722, ibid (1932) p. 256; Giles, H. A., A History of Chinese Literature (1901), pp. 337–55; Grube, W., Geschichte der chinesischen Litteratur (1902), pp. 451–59; Tzŭ-ch'uan hsien-chih (1920) passim.]

Fang Chao-ying